Early childhood exposure to family violence predicts increased risk for psychopathology. However, violence between partners and towards children often co-occur. This complicates efforts to determine how experiences of family violence contribute to early mental health problems. Utilizing mother-report data on harsh parenting and intimate partner violence (IPV) from two large community-based, socioeconomically and ethnically diverse samples of 3–5-year-old children, we illustrate the value of a bifactor method for characterizing a family climate in which verbal and physical violence are more chronic and pervasive among family members. In our Calibration sample (N = 1,179), we demonstrate the fit of a bifactor model with a shared violence factor reflecting violence among partners and towards children and orthogonal factors for physically harsh parenting and IPV. Examination of item distributions along quartiles on the identified factors reveals that violent behaviors are most frequent/chronic in families with high scores on the shared violence factor. Next, we apply this model in Validation (N = 1,316) and lab-visit samples (N = 369). Children's symptoms and impairment showed relatively strong and consistent associations with the shared factor. Some unique associations with IPV and harsh parenting were also observed. Overall, patterns suggest particularly negative impact when verbal and physical violence are more chronic and pervasive among family members. Finally, evidence supporting the bifactor model's validity relative to multi-method data from coded interviews about child abuse and IPV and observed parenting is presented. Findings illustrate the value of a bifactor approach for the meaningful characterization of shared and specific features of family violence.
- Family violence
- Harsh parenting
- Intimate partner violence
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Developmental and Educational Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health